A pair of giants in the heavyweight division will square off in Saturday's pay-per-view title bout in Los Angeles.
In a rare meeting between unbeaten champions, WBC titleholder Deontay Wilder (40-0, 39 KOs) and lineal king Tyson Fury (27-0, 19 KOs) will headline Staples Center () in a meeting between big men and even bigger personalities.
Let's take a closer look at the biggest storylines entering their showdown.
1. Deontay Wilder finally found his dance partner: The 6-foot-7 Wilder's road to the top has been uniquely his own. The native of Alabama was constantly ridiculed for how soft his matchmaking was ahead of his 33rd fight when he outpointed Bermane Stiverne in 2015 with a broken right hand to win the WBC title. Having picked up the sport at age 20 before a meteoric rise to a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics, the decision to move so slowly by his advisors appeared to be paying off. But once Wilder became interested in finally testing himself, finding a willing opponent soon became difficult.
Not only did a failed drug test prevent longtime contender Alexander Povetkin from becoming Wilder's first true test in 2016, the remaining big names wanted nothing to do with his monstrous right hand. When unbeaten Cuban Luis Ortiz tested positive for banned substance in late 2017, he became the third straight Wilder opponent to do just that. Finally in March, the Ortiz fight became a reality and allowed Wilder,, a chance to secure the kind of critical victory his career had lacked following six title defenses against second-rate opposition.
Wilder answered numerous questions in the Ortiz fight that his critics had for him. But after he was unable to lure unified champion Anthony Joshua following a lengthy soap opera of negotiations, Wilder's career still lacked the kind of commercially viable opponent that could help him become a crossover star. That name is Fury, who became the rare Wilder opponent to call him out and move toward his direction. Despite being an unbeaten American with charisma and a murderous right hand, Wilder has had trouble becoming known by causal fans in his own country. Saturday's date with Fury, who previously ended Wladimir Klitschko's long reign, could offer that breakthrough moment.
2. There's only one Tyson Fury: If Wilder's punching power has become the great equalizer of the division, even with his glaring lack of craft or technique, the unique skill set that Fury brings might as well be considered the heavyweight version of Kryptonite. For all of the questions regarding whether Fury will be the same fighter he was in 2015 against Klitschko after two-plus years of inactivity and destructive behavior amid mental health battles, the native of England may be the only fighter capable of disarming Wilder, Joshua and any other heavy hitter the division has to offer. Fury's pair of comeback bouts this year certainly failed to hammer home the idea that he can ever be the same. But should he enter the ring in top shape both physically and mentally against Wilder, it's very difficult to completely bet against the idea that Fury won't snake-charm Wilder in the same manner he did Klitschko three years ago.
With uncommon speed and craft for his 6-foot-9 frame, Fury's non-traditional style is incredibly different to prepare for and threatens to mentally frustrate opponents into fighting out of aggression and falling into his hands. Pulling off such a dangerous tightrope walk of standing in front of his opponents in order to make them miss so he can counter from awkward angles takes an elite level of speed and intelligence. But even more, it takes a level of confidence and mental toughness that very few fighters have. If any heavyweight is capable of such an impossible task of making the athletic Wilder miss for 36 minutes while simultaneously avoiding being knocked out, it's Fury. A fight with Wilder typically devolves into chaos before the knockout comes, which is exactly the style of fight Fury thrives in.
3. Can "The Gypsy King" author the ultimate redemption song? Heavyweight boxing has a surprisingly strong history of champions leaving the sport for extended breaks only to come back and reclaim the title they once held. Muhammad Ali came back from a three-year exile due to draft evasion in the midst of his prime to twice win back the crown. George Foreman left boxing for a full decade to become a preacher before embarking on a comeback that seven years later saw him become the oldest champion in heavyweight history. Mike Tyson also went four years between fights following a prison sentence for rape before coming back to win a pair of titles. Fury's journey, however, is altogether different.
Unlike Foreman and Tyson, he never lost the lineal championship he won from beating Klitschko and fulfilling a lifelong dream that began when his father John named him at birth after Mike Tyson. Fury also abused his body to alarming proportions once a battle with depression engulfed him almost immediately upon winning the title. He ballooned upwards of 400 pounds and regularly abused alcohol and cocaine. After his wife threw him out, he contemplated suicide multiple times and became content that he would eat and drink himself death. Fury's life transformation ahead of the Wilder fight likely won't earn the sympathy and celebration it deserves because of the gregarious fighter's personality and often offensive speech. But should Fury tame Wilder and return to glory it would be a story of triumph, tragedy and transformation that is unrivaled and nothing short of encouraging.
4. Will the real heavyweight king please stand up? When Fury vacated his trio of titles and retired in 2016, taking his lineal crown with him, it effectively splintered the division. Wilder still held the WBC title while the unbeaten Joshua rose to acquire the remaining three over the next two years. Thanks to his sensational knockout win over Klitschko in 2017, Joshua eventually became known as the class of the division (thanks in part to him becoming the sport's biggest star globally). But without having fought Wilder despite a lengthy public negotiation and without having acquired Fury's lineal crown, Joshua's coronation has never been official.
Thanks to his recent alignment with DAZN and the difficulties he has had (depending on which side you believe) making a fight with Wilder, it's hard to know for sure whether Joshua actually will fight the winner of Wilder-Fury in 2019. Because of that uncertainly, there's a worthy argument to make that the last man standing on Saturday by way of being lineal champion should be considered the man among men. Yes, there's some boxing semantics involved. But in theory, the lineal crown should trump any of the alphabet titles even if Joshua has three of them because it's part of the lineage which dates back to when the heavyweight championship was undisputed and in one piece.
5. A PPV heavyweight title fight that matters? Savor the flavor: Fury's absence from the division in the wake of his dethroning of Klitschko signaled the start of a renaissance for the division with exciting, unbeaten characters and a handful of must-see matches for the first time since Lennox Lewis' retirement nearly 15 years ago. Fights like Joshua-Klitschko, Wilder-Ortiz and Joshua-Povetkin have made the division matter again and succeeded in adding much-needed fun and glamour to the sport. Yet the fights that were recently made serve only as an appetizer to Saturday. For fans old enough to have enjoyed one or both of the last two heavyweight boom periods in the sport (the 1970s and 1990s), there was a time where this used to be par for the course. Sadly, not far removed from the monotony of the Klitschko era, that is no longer the case.
No, this ain't Ali-Joe Frazier or Tyson-Evander Holyfield. But this era is hot at the moment, featuring a group of fun, charismatic and powerful giants who mostly seem willing to take on every available challenge. Even better, each one is vulnerable enough to where the outcome of each fight is unknown. Hopefully, heavyweight's future will be just as bright as Wilder-Fury, with Joshua one day facing the winner and maybe even undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandyr Usyk crashing the party. But for now, enjoy how rare and entertaining a fight like Wilder-Fury with so much at stake truly is.